Australian bushfires kill three, destroy at least 150 homes


One of Chaplain's relatives told the ABC she died while trying to protect her home at Wytaliba, north-west of Coffs Harbour. "She was in absolute panic", Chrystal Harwood said. She was in absolute panic.

Authorities said some of the fires were creating their own weather conditions - pyrocumulus clouds that enveloped entire towns. "'We're on fire! There's fire everywhere!'"

"I can only recall a figure of less than 10 that we (previously) got to, which was an extraordinary event in years past", Fitzsimmons said.

The NSW Bureau of Meteorology said that there is "a high chance of warmer than average day time temperatures" from November to January.

Mrs Chaplain was found unconscious and with serious burns.

She was eventually flown to Concord Hospital and died overnight.

Unprecedented bushfires across New South Wales have claimed two lives and with seven more people missing authorities expect the death toll to rise.

More than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft had been deployed to battle the blaze.

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said firefighters had dealt with "horrific" and "traumatic" scenes including helping people suffering with burns and some who had had heart attacks.

In the north-eastern state of Queensland, many were forced to spend the night in evacuation centres while officials decided whether it was safe for them to return home.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said it was unprecedented for NSW to "have so many fires" burning at the emergency alert level.

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"Everybody knows each other and there are people missing that we haven't able to contact".

"We can't rule out the really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities as we get through and identify details across these fire grounds", he told reporters in Sydney.

"It is a very volatile and very unsafe set of circumstances that we are experiencing right across these fire grounds in New South Wales".

Pros said that approximately 350 koalas from the Lake Innes Nature Reserve were wiped out from the flames.

The carers estimate at least 10 days will be needed to assess the full damage to the koala population.

The blazes come during Australia's annual bushfire season and has been exacerbated by drought which has ravaged large swaths of the country.

"We now have 31 out of 37 districts in Western Australia in the high fire rating, and three of those will go to catastrophic in the days ahead".

The two known victims were killed by a fire near Glen Innes, about 550 km (340 miles) north of Sydney.

Hundreds of people fled their homes along a 500-kilometre swathe of the eastern seaboard from the Queensland state border south to Forster.

Even if the fires are managed for the rest of the year, Fitzsimmons said Australia still had the summer months ahead, bringing major heat waves, dry winds and the worst of their fire conditions.

Strong winds and high temperatures are expected to ease into weekend offering the chance of some respite.